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Norman Rush

Subtle Bodies

Norman Rush Subtle Bodies
$18.86 New
 
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Biographical note:

Norman Rush is the author of three previous works of fiction: Whites, a collection of stories, and two novels, Mating and Mortals. His stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and Best American Short Stories. Mating was the recipient of the National Book Award. Rush and his wife live in Rockland County, New York.

Country of final manufacture:

US

Description for Reading Group Guide:

The discussion questions and other material that follow are designed to enhance your group’s reading of Norman Rush’s Subtle Bodies. We hope they will provide useful ways of thinking and talking about this highly anticipated new novel by the author of Whites, Mating (which won the National Book Award in 1991) and Mortals.

Discussion question for Reading Group Guide:

1. What is your first impression of Nina, in Chapter 2?  What are the strongest aspects of her character?  

2. The structure of the novel alternates between sections presented from Nina’s point of view and sections presented from Ned’s. In what ways does this structure also create a portrait of these two people, and of their relationship?

3. “Her mother regularly declared that there was a mystical ‘subtle body’ inside or surrounding or emanating from every human being and that if you could see it, it told you something. It told you about the essence of a person, their secrets, for example. It was all about attending closely enough to see them” (p. 4). Is Nina able to see (or feel) these essences? Is Ned?

4. Nina thinks of Ned’s “clique of college friends” as “clowns . . . goofing on the world under the baton of their maestro Douglas” (5). She refers to their “badinage-based humor” and “their idiotic exhibitionism” (9, 106). What evidence of their status as “superior sensibilities” do you see (9)? Do you find Ned’s nostalgia for those friendships understandable? Deluded? Both?

5. Ned, according to Nina, is “a sort of Jesus, a secular Jesus” (7). “There had truly been a superior soul in their little grouplet, and that had been Ned, her lad, her Ned” (11). In what way is it significant that Ned is the only member of the group who has made a life out of his commitment to social justice?

6. Nina states that Ned doesn’t seem to understand that “there is no permanent friendship between men, among men. . . . Women can have friends, it’s more personal” (12). Is she right in this? Nina’s opinion of Douglas creates an amusing contrast with Ned’s obstinate attachment to his dead friend. Whose opinion do you come to agree with?  

7. Is Hume most likely the person who has stuck a pushpin into the image of Douglas in the double portrait (68)? Might it be Iva? How does the presence of Hume disrupt the image of Douglas and Iva’s perfect life?

8. Ned, sadly talking with Joris and Gruen, says, “The group is finished.” Joris answers, “It was finished long ago” (45). Is Joris right? The three discuss their idea of what the group was (45-6). Does the novel convey the sense of an intact group, or one that exists only in memories?  

9. Iva says to Ned, “You were the closest, of course, because you both loved Claire” (72). Why is it significant that Ned had a long relationship with Douglas’s ex, Claire?  What is the “diabolical” thing that has been going on without his knowledge, that leaves Ned “drowning in bitterness” (73)? What is his reaction later when he learns more about what Iva hints at here, and does it change his feelings about Douglas (200-2)? 

10. Ned walks down to the Vale

“Rush’s exuberant, late-modern style feels as smooth and casual as freshly pressed khakis, but beneath it a sort of parasympathetic network courses with moral ambivalence. . . .  In Subtle Bodies, as in so much of his work, confronting the world returns Rush to his central question: What matters, in the end? That we do what we can is the author’s refrain. Even if all we can do—all any two people can do—is form a country of our own, whose flag is love.”—Michelle Orange, Book Forum
 
“[Rush] attends so closely to his characters—their thoughts, words, beliefs, relationships—and landscapes—physical, social, political—that he brings them utterly alive, with often-exhilarating aptitude and insight.”—Rebecca Steinitz, The Boston Globe
 
Norman Rush has suddenly become one of America’s must-read novelists. He crept up on us, because his two previous novels, Mating and Mortals, were such enormous books that you could easily tell yourself that you’d read them next year. . . . Now Subtle Bodies has arrived, at just 256 dense, colloquial, inviting pages, and you’re out of excuses.”—Clancy Martin, New York Observer
 
“Rush’s defining gift might be his incredible awareness—about politics, about human nature, about the world—which he bestows upon his characters. . . . It makes the reader’s lens of the world a little clearer, a little sharper. If you’ve never read Rush, . . . Subtle Bodies is a more than fine place to begin.”—Jill Owens, The Oregonian
 
“By turns, tragic, bittersweet, insightful and laugh-out-loud funny, with its numerous references to pop-culture, radical politics, obscure philosophy, and hysterical monkeyshines of obnoxious college kids: Kraftwerk lyrics one moment, 19th century Russian anarchist the next.”—The Frontier Psychologist
 
“Subtle Bodies seems—to paraphrase Virginia Woolf’s description of Middlemarch—like one of the few novels written for grown-up people. . . . Rush’s characters (the women more than the men) want to fall in love, to laugh and enjoy themselves.   Their quirks, opinions, compulsions, and the cruel or considerate ways in which they treat their rivals and allies are all aspects of the personalities that keep us engrossed—along with the clarity and precision of Rush’s sentences, the freshness of his observations, and our awareness that we are reading something quite rare: a remarkably nonjudgmental novel about people who are perpetually and often harshly judging themselves and one another.”—Francine Prose, The New York Review of Books
 
“Superbly sustained narrative drollery. . . Rush is the best kind of comic novelist.”
—Geoff  Dyer, The New York Times Book Review

“The real story of Subtle Bodies, the element that finally emerges as its center of gravity, is the subject that Mr. Rush has treated in each of his previous novels: marriage. And here, in Ned and Nina, he has given us a portrait of that notoriously elusive thing, a genuinely happy couple. . .  . The book glows with their intimate joy: their private jokes, their sexual teasing, their deep loyalty and mutual concern. . . . Beautifully portrayed.”—Adam Kirsch, The Wall Street Journal
 
“A super-up-close study of male friendship (and envy).”—New York Magazine
 
“Norman Rush may be America’s last living maximalist author. In two bulky, Africa-set novels, Mating and Mortals, he astutely explored themes of courtship, outsiderdom and herd mentality. Blending romantic li


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